Category Archives: Japan

8 Incredibly Useful Japanese Words That Have No English Equivalent

APR. 8, 2014, 5:20 PM  Read more:

Recently, we talked about how Japanese, while a tough language to learn, isn’t quite as difficult as some horror stories make it out to be.

Still, if English is your native language, certain Japanese grammar rules, like saying “wa” and “o” to mark the subject and object of your sentences, can seem like a major hassle.

With practice, though, these things start to become automatic.

Even better, the Japanese language is filled with incredibly handy phrases that we’d love to import into English.

1. Doumo – Hello, thanks, and hello and thanks

The extremely convenient domo manages to do the job of both “hello” and “thank you,”as it’s the first component of both doumo konnichiwa (good afternoon) and domo arigato gozaimasu (thank you very much).

Aside from being shorter than the two phrases it can replace (which are both a bit of a mouthful even by Japanese standards), doumo can also be used to combine the two sentiments. Did someone invite you to their house? A warm “Domo!” with a smile as they open the front door works as both a friendly greeting and a heartfelt thanks for opening their home to you.

2. Ozappa – Working in broad strokes

Ozappa is often used to describe a type of personality, and while it directly translates to “rough” or “broad,” it doesn’t mean the person in question is abrasive, nor does it indicate someone who’s broad-minded in the sense of being open to new ideas. Rather, someone who’s ozappa doesn’t really sweat the details, whether for better or worse. Your friend who planned the barbeque, said he’d buy the beer and stick it in the cooler, but didn’t think to buy ice? He’s ozappa, but so is your other pal who doesn’t get worked up when you hand him a lukewarm brew.

3. Bimyou – Subtly…not right

Although it literally means “subtle,” bimyou usually implies that something is a little off, and that maybe it’d be better to just do without it altogether. The dash of red wine that pork cutlet sauce really doesn’t need, the clunky metaphors in the love letter your wrote to your junior high crush, and the tasteful nose piercing you picked out for your job interview could all be described as bimyou.

4. Irusu – The “the lights are on but nobody’s home” fake-out

This is one many foreign residents in Japan do without even realizing there’s a term for it. Imagine it’s a nice Sunday afternoon. You’re lounging at home, enjoying your day off and browsing the Internet, when all of a sudden, there’s a knock at the door. Staring out the peephole, you spot someone dressed in clothing that could only be described as “missionary casual.”

Since you’ve already discovered your own personal guiding light, you slink quietly back from the door, fooling the solicitor into thinking you’re out so that he goes and bothers your neighbors instead. Congratulations, you just pulled off a successful irusu (pretending to be out when someone comes by) operation.

5. Chu to hampa – Not quite one thing, but not quite the other, either

Say you’re waiting to meet up with your friend, and he calls to say he’ll be five minutes late. No big deal, right? You can hold out that long.

Likewise, if he’s going to be two hours late, this doesn’t put you in such a big bind, since you can go do something else while you’re waiting. You could get something to eat, do some shopping, or grab a couple cups of coffee (or glasses of bourbon, neat, if it’s late enough in the day and/or you’re an alcoholic).

But what if your friend is going to be 20 minutes late? Now that’s a pain, since it’s way too long to sit around twiddling your thumbs, but not enough time to actually do anything with.

This kind of situation is what the Japanese call chu to hampa, halfway and some fragments. It’s used whenever you’ve got something that would be fine if it was just a few steps in either direction on whichever scale you’re measuring it with, but like some Opposite Day-version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s just wrong. The car that’s too big and bulky to be fun to drive but also doesn’t have enough trunk space to be practical? The girl you have too much chemistry with to be “just friends,” but don’t get along with well enough to want to see more than once a month? Chu to hampa, chu to hampa.

6. Majime – Earnestness for the 21st Century

Majime is usually listed in textbooks as “serious,” and you could translate it that way. However, saying a person is majime doesn’t mean they’re somber, since even people with professional-caliber senses of humor can be majime.

Majime is actually a little closer to “earnest,” but it doesn’t have the same nuance of ineffectualness associated with “earnest efforts,” nor the Victorian ring of calling someone “an earnest young man.” Majime indicates the personality possessed by people who are reliable, responsible, and can simply get things done without causing drama or problems for others. Not surprisingly, this is seen as an extremely desirable mindset in industrious Japan, and calling someone majime neither labels them as uptight or old-fashioned, but rather respectable and admirable.

7. Otsukaresama desu – You’re probably tired, and I think that’s great

Coming from tsukareru (to be tired), otsukaresama desu is one of the most useful phrases in Japanese business. Although it literally means, “You’re tired,” it’s not used to point out someone’s lack of pep, but to thank them for exhausting their energies to do something you, or the team you’re part of, benefitted from.

While the meaning is akin to “I appreciate your hard work,” otsukaresama desu has a couple distinct advantages over its English equivalent. For starters, it doesn’t sound nearly as stiff and impersonal. It can also be used when speaking up or down the chain of command. Managers can say it to their subordinates, and you can even say the phrase to your boss if he’s heading out of the office before you.

Otsukaresama desu is even a common greeting is business correspondence, especially among employees of the same company. Even if you don’t work side-by-side with him, it’s polite to give Tanaka in accounting the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s been busting his butt at work just like you have. So when you call him up to ask for the quarterly revenue figures, it’s common courtesy to start off your request with otsukaresama desu.

8. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu – I hope things go well, even if I’m not exactly sure what those things are

Fittingly, we finish with a phrase that’s often used to express an abstract yet genuine hope for good things to come, yoroshiku onegai shimasu. While onegai shimasu is pretty much just a polite way of saying “please,” yoroshiku means “well” or “favorably,” so the whole thing together is essentially a way of making the request, “Favorably, please.”

“Umm…favorably what?” is the reaction most English speakers initially have to this. Sure, Japanese can be a vague language at times, but this is a little much, isn’t it? If someone just says to you, “Favorably please,” what exactly are you supposed to do?

And therein lies the beauty of yoroshiku onegai shimasu: The exact thing you do doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact, the person who says yoroshiku onegai shimasu likely doesn’t have any concrete idea either. All they know is that somehow the two of you are connected, whether socially or professionally, and they hope that the relationship will be a mutually happy one.

There’s an unspoken understanding that while you’ll work out the details later, the ultimate goal is this.

Did your boss just hand you an important project? He’ll probably give you a yoroshiku onegai shimasu, or at least its informal variant, yoroshiku, before you get started on it, since you may run into some problems that take extra time and effort to resolve. Hopping in a friend’s car for a trip to the beach? Give him a yoroshiku, since he’ll be driving safely, even if he’d rather be sitting in the back joking and fooling around with everyone else. Meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time? You’d better believe that’s ayoroshiku onegai shimasu, since if things progress to marriage and babies, you’ve just linked two families who are going to be connected for generations to come.

And of course, this phrase gets used all the time with businesses and organizations who hope their patrons keep coming back for years to come. So thanks for reading, and to all of you, yoroshiku onegai shimasu!


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Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (2013) : What happened to Japan’s electronic giants? In: BBC News Asia; April 2nd, 2013

What happened to Japan’s electronic giants?

A Sharp sign in an electronics storeElectronics giant Sharp has been losing money fast

Japan’s electronic giants once ruled the world. Sony, Panasonic, Sharp were household names. Now those same companies are in deep trouble, losing billions of dollars a year. How have the mighty Japanese companies fallen so low? The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo looks at what went wrong.

If you want to get an idea of what’s gone wrong with Japan’s electronics industry go for a ride on the Tokyo metro.

The Tokyo metro (or a lot of it) now has 3G mobile reception. But you’re not allowed to talk on your mobile phone on public transport in Japan, so everyone in my carriage was busily texting away on their 3G devices.

And what particular device were they using? A quick survey of the carriage I was in found about 80% were holding an Apple iPhone.

That’s admittedly not a scientific result – but the evidence is pretty stark. Where once everyone would have been listening to a Sony Walkman, today it is Apple and Samsung that dominate, even here on Sony’s home ground.

The evidence can also been seen in their financial results. Japan’s electronic giants are bleeding red ink.

Sony may make a small profit this year, its first since 2008. Panasonic (formerly Matsushita) is expected to post a $9bn (£6bn) loss this year. Sharp, which is much smaller, is losing money so fast it will not survive another year without a major infusion of cash.

So what went wrong?

Digital challenge

According to Tokyo-based economist Gerhard Fasol, the Japanese giants were overtaken by the digital revolution.

The Japanese giants, he says, actually built their empires on making complex electrical machines – colour televisions, radios, cassette players, refrigerators, washing machines.

Japan has to become a brain country”

Gerhard FasolEconomist

Yes, they contained electronic components, but they were basically mechanical devices.

But then came the digital revolution, and the world changed.

“The Sony Walkman is a classic example,” Gerhard Fasol says. “It has no software in it. It is purely mechanical. Today you need to have software business models that are completely different.”

The digital revolution not only changed the way electronic devices work, they changed the way they are made.

The whole manufacturing model shifted as companies moved production to low-cost countries. That has put huge downward pressure on profit margins for Japanese manufacturers.

“Look at Apple,” Mr Fasol says. “They make iPods and iPhones.”

“Apple makes at least 50% profit margins on those. People say iPhones are made in China, but maybe only 3% of the value of an iPhone stays in China.”

“So it’s hard to become rich today on the scale of a Panasonic just by manufacturing – you have to do a lot more.”


Hiroaki Nakanishi
Mr Nakanishi decided to drop many of Hitachi’s consumer electronics divisions

Unfortunately neither Panasonic nor Sharp responded to our repeated requests for interviews, so instead I went to see the boss of another Japanese manufacturing giant.

Hiroaki Nakanishi is the 66-year-old English-speaking president of Hitachi Corporation.

When he took over the reins at the 100-year-old engineering giant in 2010 it too was bleeding red ink. Mr Nakanishi immediately decided to do something very un-Japanese. He closed or sold loss-making divisions, most of them in consumer electronics.

“Digital technology changed everything,” he says.

“In the television industry it means that just one chip is now needed to produce a large and high quality TV picture. So now everybody can do it.”

“That means the new players from Korea and China, they now have the advantage.”

Hitachi had built its reputation on having the best technology. But now competition has switched to who has the best sales and marketing strategy, and the biggest advertising budgets. Mr Nakanishi says the Japanese companies just couldn’t keep up.

“The structure of the industry had completely changed,” he says. “We could not adjust to such an environment. So that is why I gave up those segments.”

‘Brain country’

Mr Nakanishi decided to return Hitachi to its core business: heavy engineering. Gas turbines, steam turbines, nuclear power plants, high-speed trains, these are the areas he believes Hitachi can still be a world beater, especially in the developing world.

“In developing countries they don’t have specific planning and construction know-how [for big infrastructure projects], but we have,” he says.

“It is not simply a case of selling machinery, but also the engineering, planning, even sometimes the financing of a project. That total process, that is our most important advantage.”

Mr Nakanishi’s strategy is working. Hitachi is back in profit. Hitachi trains are the front-runner in the competition to replace all of the UK’s fleet of inter-city high-speed trains.

But it will not be as easy for the others.

A Hitachi factory
Hitachi has switched its focus to heavy engineering

Sony is the strongest of the three. But even Sony makes far more money today out of selling life insurance than it does out of making electronics. Panasonic and Sharp have less to fall back on.

Gerhard Fasol says that once again, just as they did back in the 1950s and 60s, the Japanese companies need to learn from America.

“It’s no coincidence that many of the most successful companies today are in Silicon Valley,” Mr Fasol says.

“Companies like Cisco or Oracle are not affected by the Korean competition. Japan has to become a brain country. It’s a country like Switzerland or England.”

“You have very high education and very clever people so you have to use that. Sometimes that value can be captured through manufacturing, but in other cases through software. And software has been neglected in Japan.”

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Yellow Magic Orchestra (1980): Snakeman Show.

from the x multiples album.

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How to speak fluent Japanese without saying a word

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Weiterbildungsmarkt Japan

via i Move

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Jiré Emine Gözen (2012): Cyberpunk Science Fiction

Literarische Fiktionen und Medientheorie

2012, 354 S., kart., 32,80 €
ISBN 978-3-8376-1701-6
Transscript Verlag Reihe Kultur- und Medientheorie

Jiré Emine Gözen (Dr. phil.), Medienwissenschaftlerin mit den Forschungsschwerpunkten Avantgarde, Ästhetik, Postmoderne, Cultural Studies und Asian Art, lebt und arbeitet in Tokio und Frankfurt am Main.

Die Cyberpunk-Literatur – eine kurzlebige, aber bis heute einflussreiche Strömung der 1980er Jahre. Als erste ausführliche Auseinandersetzung mit den nahen Zukunftswelten der Cyberpunk-Literatur zeigt dieses Buch, wie das Genre mit seinen zentralen Topoi der Verschmelzung von Mensch und Maschine medientheoretische Konzepte in sich aufnimmt, fiktionalisiert – und letztendlich fortschreibt. Neben der Auseinandersetzung mit Cyberpunk und Medientheorie des 20. Jahrhunderts präsentiert Jiré Emine Gözen einen ausführlichen Überblick über die deutsche und anglo-amerikanische Science-Fiction-Forschung sowie die künstlerische Umsetzung postmoderner Ästhetik und Wirklichkeitsdarstellung.

Jiré Emine Gözen (Dr. phil.), Medienwissenschaftlerin mit den Forschungsschwerpunkten Avantgarde, Ästhetik, Postmoderne, Cultural Studies und Asian Art, lebt und arbeitet in Tokio und Frankfurt am Main.

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The Japanese Elevator Market

via Slideshare

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